Tim Miller: Elections will not impact UK Gambling’s resolutions

Tim Miller reflected on the journey and the scale of work undertaken on the UK Gambling Act review and its subsequent White Paper consultations as the most comprehensive examination of a gambling market undertaken by a regulatory agency.

Many believe that the process of the Gambling Review had been triggered before the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) called for a ‘surgical review’ of the 2005 Gambling Act on 8 December 2020, to bestow UK gambling its new terms of play. Yet, four years on from the DCMS’ call, UK gambling has yet to receive its generational judgement. 

The journey of the Gambling Review continues to meander through the most conflicting and controversial elements of UK gambling governance. This turbulent passage, which is under scrutiny, was touched upon by Miller, Executive Director of the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) for Policy and Research, at ICE 2024.

The opening day of global gambling’s biggest trade show saw Gambling Commission Chief Executive, Andrew Rhodes, state that finding the right balance to govern a commercially evolving UK gambling marketplace and its engagement with the public is the academic challenge of the Gambling Review. 

Rhodes’ assumption was put to Miller by SBC, who asked the Commission’s policy executive how a regulator can make sense of a review that has garnered over 20,000 responses from diverse stakeholders?

Scale of the Review

Miller responded that stakeholders must have “a sense of the scale of work undertaken by the Commission, in which there are 50 dedicated staff working directly on the White Paper’s consultation”.

As anticipated, the final process of the Gambling Review is seen as its most challenging hurdle, in which Miller detailed that “it’s indicative of the Commission’s staff’s dedication, skills, and talent that we are able to undertake a review of this scale”.

Reflecting on the Gambling Review’s academic challenge, Miller noted: “It’s the question I get asked the most at conferences – how do you strike an appropriate balance between consumer protections and industry growth?”

“But I do sometimes wonder whether we’re starting with the assumption that those two factors are incompatible with each other. If we start with that assumption, then that doesn’t feel particularly ambitious. There will clearly always be times where we need to strike a balance”.

From a policy perspective, Miller underlined the Commission’s approach of “starting from the point of can we try and do this in a way that actually benefits everyone”. 

As such, a focus has been placed on finding the right systems and controls to govern an industry “in which latest data points to £16bn in GGY, a record amount. I’m not saying that the industry faces no challenges, but since we have been regulating this sector, growth has not been one of them.”

History no excuse for compliance failures 

Yet, the two-and-a-half year duration of the review and subsequent months post publication of the White Paper in April 2023 have seen the Commission face backlash regarding enforcement and penalties imposed on operators struggling with tough adjustments to new regulatory demands.

Miller emphasised the importance of robust enforcement and increased fines as crucial tools for ensuring compliance within the industry, in which operators cannot simply dismiss infringements as “legacy failings”.

“I have been at the Commission for seven years, and without exception, every year, the voices of the industry have said… Well, these failings are historic in nature. It comes to a point where it’s not history that we are dealing with.”

Enforcement actions are “not merely about punishment, Miller emphasised,  “but about setting clear standards and expectations for operators.” In recent years, the UKGC has shown a willingness to issue record penalties to those falling short of regulatory standards, signalling a commitment to consumer protection and fair play.

As a regulatory body, the Commission governs a cutthroat market with a make-up of diverse operators and respective brands competing for market share. 

Questioned on why the Gambling Review has not moved to shrink the number of operating licences, replicating measures undertaken by European regulators, Miller noted diversity and efficiency as a consumer protection of the UK market.

“I spend a lot of time talking to regulators around the world and what they reflect upon is that Britain does have a diverse market, with lots of consumer choice,” he said.

“That is probably our biggest defence against the risk of the black market, as the average consumer in the UK has very few incentives to want to use an unlicensed operator.”

In Miller’s view, the Commission “governs a market that allows for choice and innovation”, but which also “fosters a competitive environment where operators continually enhance consumer protection and responsible gaming practices”.

Compliance is not a vacuum 

Maintaining UK gambling’s consumer choice and competitive edge was deemed as a core objective of the Commission’s call for feedback on White Paper proposals, requiring diverse opinion on the UKGC regulatory vision and innovations.

As such, Miller believes that gambling at a crucial juncture cannot afford “to think that it operates in a vacuum, as there are many elements that can impact on gambling and gambling can impact upon”.

Case in point, UK challenger banks Monzo and Sterling introduced gambling blocks on their apps; Miller explained that “there was no regulatory pressure from us, they recognised there was a connection between their customers who gamble and wanted to control their spend.”

“What is fascinating, in particular, is that not only did it address gambling harms, but Monzo and challenger banks found that customers use it as an anti-fraud technology.”

Cross-Party consensus for gambling resolutions 

As for the potential impact of a General Election putting the brakes on the Review, Miller conveyed a sense of stability and continuity in regulatory direction. “Our mission is clear, irrespective of the political landscape,” Miller declared.

“I don’t expect whatever outcome of the election to have a real impact on the direction of the White Paper.”

“Political discourse has become quite dissipated, though previously robust, as gambling reform is one of those areas that has found a way to unify parties. The White Paper has been positively received by all sides of the house so I think whether we keep a Conservative government or there’s a Labour government, I don’t see a radical difference in views.”

A cross-party consensus on the need for gambling reform suggests that the Commission’s work is aligned with a broader societal demand for a fair and responsible gambling industry in which resolutions are forthcoming.